I heard about it, but somehow it just seemed so unlikely that I never gave it a thought. But last week when my phone bill arrived, with an amount twice what is normal, I realized I’d been slammed.
What is it?
What is slamming? According to the FCC it is “the illegal practice of changing a consumer’s telephone service - local or long distance service - without permission.” I’ve been a very happy Qwest customer for the past year and a half, but the long distance calls on my statement were billed by a company called USBI on behalf of National Accounts, Inc. A little searching turned up a previously unnoticed charge on a previous bill for switching to Worldcom for long distance service. So there are three companies somehow involved in this and I’m determined to get to the bottom of it and find who’s responsible.
Getting back to normal
My first call is to USBI since their number is on my statement. They quickly agree to credit the charges, but they are a billing service and can do little else. They don’t know how this could have happened and imply that I may have unwittingly done something to initiate the change. Silly me.
Next I call Verizon, my local service provider, and ask to get switched back to Qwest. A very competent sounding person happily switches me back, and also suggests I get a PIC Restriction (also called PIC Freeze) placed on the line. What’s a PIC Restriction? PIC stands for Primary Interexchange Carrier, meaning your interstate long distance provider. Once a PIC Restriction is in place, the local phone company will only switch my PIC if I personally give them permission to do so. She says she’ll send me the forms, and believe me, I’ll do this. You should too!
The Verizon rep says they will not charge me for switching back to Qwest, and in fact she goes back and takes off the previous charges for the unauthorized switching. Since this problem is not really their fault, I applaud Verizon’s willingness to do this. The rep tells me to deduct the charges from National Accounts from my next payment. She marks my account indicating that it could take 60 days for everything to settle down to normal. This should protect me from warnings for non-payment or partial payment.
Next I need to call Qwest to reinstate my previous service with them. No problem there. They gladly reinstate everything, including my calling card and home toll-free number.
My next step is to call USBI again to get a phone number for National Accounts. They oblige, but when I call National Accounts I get voicemail. It’s the weekend and they only have weekday hours. So I leave a message asking them to call me on Monday. Of course I don’t expect them to call since I told them what I wanted to talk to them about, but I still have their number and can call them.
The only company I’ve not yet contacted at this point is Worldcom, whom I understand is just providing bulk service to National Accounts. Nonetheless, their name appears on my statement as the company that I’ve been switched to, so I head for their website and send them an email explaining what happened and asking what their involvement is. I figure they may decide to drop National Accounts if enough people complain.
Monday rolls around and since National Accounts doesn’t call me, I call them. Into the queue I go, and after 1 hour and 15 minutes I leave another message for them to ignore. Guess I don’t need to talk to them, but it would be interesting to get their story. My guess is they have no one answering the phone for obvious reasons. How would you like to be a customer service rep for a slammer?
If you get slammed
What to do if you get slammed? Start by calling the slamming company and telling them you will not pay. For the first 30 days after being slammed you don’t have to pay anyone for your calls. After that you pay your authorized provider (not the slamming company), and you pay at your authorized provider’s rates, not the slamming company rates. This helps pay back the authorized provider for lost revenue. This is all part of new rules that went into effect November 28, 2000 to make it tougher on spammers. Know your rights! Go to the FCC website and get the details.
Don’t just call the slamming company (or their billing service). Do what I did and get switched back to your chosen provider. Ask nicely about getting a credit for the switching charges and thank them for their help. Don’t forget to ask about a PIC Restriction! In fact, do that even if you haven’t yet been slammed to reduce the chance it will ever happen to you. And be sure to call your chosen provider to get everything switched back to your original service plan. They may not realize you’re being switched back, and thus may put you on a default plan of some kind.
The story’s not over for me. Because of delayed billing by National Accounts it could be another couple of billing cycles before things are back to normal. It should be little more than a phone call each month. I’ll let you know if more problems crop up.
Get that PIC Restriction!!!